You got the power (not!) client disclosure

Yesterday I penned a guest editorial for the International Journal of Market Research asking some hard questions about respondent anonymity – it should be published in the next couple of months. In the course of which I discovered something which I found rather disturbing.  The new Market Research Society code which all researchers are supposed to abide by makes clear provisions for the anonymity of respondents to be protected. What I had not noticed is that there is no requirement for respondents to be told the identity of the client who after all is paying for the whole exercise, and who will we hope profit from it. I have always told respondents the name of the client – if it isn’t already blindingly obvious- there is usually a pleasing shift of perceptions when moving from unbranded to branded which is very useful for the researcher.  But it is a courtesy not a requirement.

There is a curious anomaly that if the client is observing the group and their presence is likely to be prejudicial to a respondent then the respondent should be informed. And respondents have the option of withdrawing at any point.   But this puts the onus on the client observer to inform the researcher that they know the respondent – giving the respondent the opportunity to leave.

This balance of power is archaic, woefully out of step with the reality of empowered vigilante customers who take a poor view of companies which do their best to avoid public scrutiny. Surely it is time for market research to clean up its act and to make it mandatory for the paymasters to reveal to research participants who they are whether they like it or not.

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